Breaking out of the recession in Georgia may be even more difficult than many experts think. One reason: The federal government and the Georgia Gold Dome appear to be pulling in opposite directions on several fronts to warm up the economy.
The incoming administration of President-Elect Barack Obama plans to spend nearly a trillion dollars to stimulate the national economy. It plans massive tax cuts aimed at the middle class, and it has scrapped proposals to suspend most of the Bush administration's cuts for upper-income taxpayers.
The administration of Gov. Sonny Perdue has different ideas. Perdue appears to be following the path of Depression-era President Herbert Hoover. While keeping the details under wraps, Perdue has tax increases and drastic reductions in spending and services on his mind.
· The state hopes to persuade the Legislature to approve a new tax on hospital revenue. Though the governor's people insist on referring to these measures as fees, let's call them what they are: taxes.
The new hospital money would be spent on shoring up Medicaid to the tune of $208 million. It also would fund trauma centers and underwrite other health-care needs. That is what we are told in the Capitol. In fact, the fresh cash - a percentage of each hospital's net revenue - is expected to wind up in the state's general fund to be spent as Georgia's kook-led Legislature desires.
Health-care interests already are up in arms about the tax, which they say could cripple or even shut down smaller hospitals across the state. Some big hospitals are perplexed at being kept in the dark about a proposal that directly affects their bottom lines as well as the health of many Georgians.
· The administration wants to abolish former Gov. Roy Barnes' Homeowners Tax Relief Grants, which provided an estimated $438 million in tax relief last year. And new insurance fees and automatically increased premiums will shortly add to many Georgians' cash-flow woes, even as joblessness and foreclosures rise across the state.
And, by the way, the state plans to borrow another record amount for several ongoing projects, including moving the entire state Corrections Department from Atlanta to Monroe County in middle Georgia.
As for cutting back on services, the ill, elderly and working poor have been hardest hit.
The state veterans' home at Milledgeville is being closed. In addition, several Georgia mental health facilities are being shut down as the state prepares to privatize treatment and reduce its caregiver staff to nearly zero.
Georgia has three major blots on its historical record: slavery, renting convict labor and cruel and negligible care for its mentally sick. Is Georgia about to replay its infamous role from the 1950s as the nation's snake pit for the mentally impaired?
Georgia's public schools and colleges continue to take a shellacking with major cuts in staff and programs. Class sizes are being increased, and quality education has taken a giant step backward in many areas.
President-elect Obama has asked the states to forego employee cutbacks and curtailment of services to avoid adding more fuel to the recession fires. His plea has been ignored in Georgia's Statehouse.
Meanwhile, Georgia is becoming known as Illinois South for its pay-to-play shenanigans. A Perdue appointee to the state Board of Regents has been discovered with $1 million in contracts with the University System, which he governs. And Speaker Glenn Richardson's House chamber has become a clearinghouse for the Speaker's political action program, to which every House committee chairman contributes cash every year.
On the other hand, let's give credit where it's due. Gov. Perdue has received national recognition for his $14 million Go Fish program to promote Georgia bass fishing. The Wall Street Journal poked fun at the Go Fish program and quoted Gov. Perdue: "The governor says even if the lakes stay low, that will make it easier to get to the fish. 'Would you rather catch a big fish in your bathtub,' Mr. Perdue recently asked reporters at a news conference, 'or your swimming pool?'"
The next governor's election comes up in 2010. Right now, the pickings for a sterling successor to Perdue look mighty slim, but who knows? A new FDR or Huey Long could emerge from the Georgia pines any day now.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.